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VEGAS MYTHS RE-BUSTED: The Strip is the Brightest Place on Earth

Posted on: March 1, 2024, 07:06h. 

Last updated on: March 1, 2024, 08:59h.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Vegas Myths Busted” publishes every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday edition. Today’s entry in our ongoing series originally ran on Oct. 30, 2023.


On May 25, 2022, the “Cubby and Christine in the Morning” show on WLTW-FM/New York asked its listeners what the brightest place on Earth was.

Las Vegas as it appears from space at night in a NASA photo. Can you make out the Luxor light? (Image: NASA)

The first caller to answer “Las Vegas” won four tickets to see a Cirque du Soleil show at the Prudential Center.

Those tickets should have gone to someone else.

And the Winner is … Not the Strip

Determining Earth’s brightest place, per square mile, with certainty “hasn’t been done yet, but it can be,” Jurij Stare, inventor of the lightpollutionmap.info web application, told Casino.org. Stare’s app allows users to view and manipulate photographs taken of the world at night by NOAA and NASA’s SWAMI satellite annually from 2012 to 2022, and shows luminosity as numerical data.

“What you need is a GIS analyst to do some zonal statistics on the VIIRS datasets for you,” Stare wrote in an e-mail. “It would involve a lot of manual work selecting areas and writing down data.”

Next, we consulted researcher Fabio Falchi at the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Thiene, Italy. That’s because we had no idea what Stare was talking about, and we were seriously hoping someone else would tell us what we wanted to know without our having to do any work.

During a Zoom call, Falchi pulled up Stare’s web app, which he was familiar with, and pointed out how many concentrated areas in the world were shaded red, the color chosen to signify the highest nightly light output. There were literally hundreds of seemingly identical red blobs, of which the Las Vegas Strip was only one.

Next, Falchi zoomed in to one whopper of a red spot he said he just happened to have noticed right before our interview. It was the Chau Thanh district in Vietnam, near Saigon. Using a web tool that compared a ring of the red light from the Strip to the same-sized red spot over Chau Thanh produced an astonishing result.

The Chau Thanh district of Vietnam is brighter than the Las Vegas Strip and occupies almost the same exact area. (Image: lightpollutionmap.info)

For the exact same area, Chau Thanh’s total light output measured 335 nanowatts per square centimeter, to the Strip’s 245. That’s 37% brighter!

Seeing the Light

“Let’s see what’s there that is so bright,” Falchi asked as he cross-referenced Chau Thanh to a daytime satellite image of the area and zoomed in to what appeared to be a large collection of crop fields.

Researcher Fabio Falchi and yours truly try to make sense of the light output from Chau Thanh during what may turn out to be an historic Zoom call. (Image: Casino.org)

“That’s very, very strange,” he said. “I have no idea why this is. Maybe they illuminate the crops at night?”

A dragon fruit field is illuminated at night in the Chau Thanh district of Vietnam. (Image: Innoviet)

Oh boy, do they. Travel agencies actually sell nocturnal tours of the lit fields. One, called Innoviet, describes the fields on its website as “like a thousand stars sparkling on the ground where you can simply captivate this moment with your bare eyes in a close distance.”

Is it possible that the brightest place on Earth lay entirely undiscovered until we just happened to nudge Falchi into discovering it on Oct. 20, 2023?

Yes, but it’s equally possible that some small but very bright part of Hong Kong, Moscow, or Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, one of which legitimate internet sources usually dub as Earth’s brightest city, owns the title.

Maybe you have a year to research a project that won’t end in a postgraduate degree. But we’re lowly Vegas myth-busters, so we’re happy merely being able to make the following proclamation with absolute certainty…

The brightest place on Earth, as measured by luminosity per square mile, is not the Las Vegas Strip.

“Is it too late for me to win the tickets for Cirque du Soleil?” Falchi joked.

Myth Understanding

A photo taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Nov. 30, 2010, showing the Strip and its bright blur of lights, was posted by NASA to its website along with this copy: “The Vegas Strip is reputed to be the brightest spot on Earth due to the concentration of lights on its hotels and casinos.”

Only nobody seemed to notice the “reputed to be” part. (Note that even NASA itself didn’t want to do the research!)

Most of the websites that pose the same question claim the Las Vegas Strip is simply the 100%, without a doubt, brightest place on Earth. The Westgate Resort’s blog goes as far as referring to the Strip as brighter than the entire city of Hong Kong!

The light atop the Luxor Hotel & Casino is believed to be the brightest on Earth. (Image: Casino.org)

What About the Luxor?

If you need Vegas to win “brightest something” so badly that you’d be happy with “brightest single light on Earth visible from space,” then OK, let’s see ….

When it opened in 1993, the Luxor light, powered by 39 xenon lights with 7,000-watt bulbs, emitted 42.3 billion candela of light. To put that into perspective, a modern lighthouse emits about 1 million candela. So … 42K lighthouses pointed directly up.

The above paragraph was written in the past tense because the Luxor light has been dimmed by half since 2008. The dimming was implemented by MGM Resorts to save energy and money and hope that no one notices.

Except for occasional articles like this that point out the light’s dimming to only the exceptionally bright people who care about such things, it worked. Almost no one noticed. And, even at around 21 billion candela, the ultimate high-beam atop the Luxor is still believed to be the world’s brightest light.

There’s Still a Problem

Regardless of whether it’s the world’s brightest light, the Luxor Sky Beam — to bust two myths here for the price of one — has never been visible from space. All satellite photographs of Las Vegas at night show the light output from the Strip’s southern end blending into a single fog of light.

That’s why you couldn’t distinguish the Luxor in this story’s first photograph.

Look for a new “Vegas Myths Busted” every Monday on Casino.org. Visit VegasMythsBusted.com to read previously busted Vegas myths. Got a suggestion for a Vegas myth that needs busting? Email corey@casino.org.


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